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Company News Taking Care of Business - Iron Tower Studio 2019 Business Diary

Infinitron

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Tags: Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game; Dungeon Rats; Iron Tower Studio; The Age of Decadence; Vince D. Weller

A year ago, Vault Dweller wrote a very interesting business diary update, a highly transparent look at his studio's operations including revenue charts, market analysis and more. Well, it looks like that's going to be an annual thing. This year's business diary is much shorter but comes with big news. Instead of the small tactical spin-off he described last year, Vince has decided his studio's next game will be a full-blown sequel to Colony Ship. To try and avoid the dreaded "sequel fatigue syndrome" he's always warned about, Vince intends to take the game in an ambitious but not unexpected direction - the surface of the alien-inhabited planet the colony ship has at long last arrived at. I quote:

Colony Ship, formerly known as The New World

As the last update says, we finally have a playable build, so we hope to release the combat beta in 2 months and a full demo by the end of the year, so it should be a very busy, stressful, but exciting year for us. In unexpected news, our efforts were noticed and we've received our first publishing offer from a well-known company (in fact, I was very surprised to learn that not only they're aware we exist but that they also read our updates occasionally). Some folks are destined for greatness and greatness does call for strategic alliances and capital injections. Sadly, we're too small-minded to dream of such things, so we'll stick with our 0.0003% of the global market.

Anyway, we've been working for 2 years building the "infrastructure" (RPG-izing the engine, developing systems: character, combat, stealth, inventory, dialogue, etc), working on items, models, effects, etc. Even though we're far from done, the time and effort investment is already considerable. Starting from scratch every time is painful, so we'll have to brave the dangers of the "more of the same" curse and do a proper sequel, instead of another small tactical game or a brand new project.

Naturally, investing 3 years into a sequel and selling 30% of the original will be equally painful (as Dungeon Rats' sales data shows, you don't have to spend 3 years to sell 30% when a single year will do), but what we in mind is so crazy it might actually work.

The main problem with sequels is that the setting and gameplay remain the same. It's nearly impossible to switch gears and offer the player something radically different. While your best fans may be enthralled with the initial game and crave more of it, part of what they are craving is the sense of exploration (of a land and a rule set), novelty, and wonder that accompanying a new RPG - things that will almost inherently be absent in a sequel. Obsidian's Deadfire, for example, plays the same way as the original (which is to be expected, of course; after all, Fallout 2 plays the same way too - you know what works, what doesn't, so you follow the established path and know what to expect from the enemies and factions). With Colony Ship, this problem is easy to solve, not because we're so clever, but because the setting itself implies its solution: we land the Ship and start the Colony.

A Tentative Sequel


From Colony Ship's intro: "...after the Ship's launch a deep space probe transmitted highly detailed images of the surface, which revealed one minor setback: this very habitable world is already inhabited. Since the voyage is estimated to take close to 400 years, it’s possible that by the time the Ship arrives the colonists will encounter a mature civilization, corresponding to Earth’s Middles Ages."

The typical space opera trope is that when we make first contact, it is with aliens either corresponding to very primitive indigenous people (such as in Avatar), consisting of a nightmarish swarm (as in Starship Troopers), or at some extraordinary level of technology themselves (as in Star Trek or Babylon 5). Here, however, while the aliens are pre-industrial, they are well past the spears and face-paint stage, and have well-established political, economic, and military systems.

More importantly, they are alien, which means that while they may be humanoid (to make our animator's life easier), the fundamental logic of their society, religion, and power should be truly alien to ours and vice versa. The result is a highly asymmetrical kulturcampf.

For the record, it won't be a retelling of the conquest of the New World but on another planet. The ragtag Terrans who'd land on Proxima B after 400 years of space travel and in-fighting will be at a disadvantage and will have to fight for survival and adapt to this less than welcoming arid new world. Reinforcements won't be coming, so the Terrans will be on their own and each defeat will bring them closer to being wiped out for good. They will have to rely on crude firearms more than ever as the high-tech weapons and gear intended for the future colony were used up during the Mutiny and the civil war that followed. New factions will emerge in response to new threats, each offering a different way to survive and become part of this world.

While we're playing around with the basic concepts, we're exploring what the alien civilization might look like. Joan Piqué Llorens out of Barcelona thinks it might look like this: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/BmvNgA

Back to the alien culture. Needless to say, it has to be unique in a good way and thus interesting to explore, which is easier said than done. The first attempt was a complete disaster but fortunately for everyone, Mark Yohalem (Primordia, Fallen Gods) was the first to see it, so he quickly pointed out the flaws and helped us find a much better angle. The second attempt managed to get Mark's stamp of approval:

"Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but I do kind of like it. I also like the sense of this spectacular and alien civilization that is basically being destabilized in a way that you can see the whole thing crumbling in the face of familiar human tech. Makes any sense of victory a bit melancholy."

Now that we have a good socio-political and religious foundation in place we can spend the next 2 years slowly fleshing out, so that by the time Colony Ship is released, the new setting will be mapped out and ready to go.
Sorry, Inquisition RPG fans. Maybe in 2030?
 

Goral

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In unexpected news, our efforts were noticed and we've received our first publishing offer from a well-known company
I would argue that this part is bigger news. It might have been one of the reasons why Vince has talked about the sequel so openly and so soon, otherwise there was a chance that this company would use the Colony idea (which as pointed out is the next logical step). Also, the Inquisition game is still planned and Vince added a very nice gif: https://cdna.artstation.com/p/asset...al/joan-pique-llorens-atlantis.gif?1538688997

 

Vault Dweller

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I would argue that this part is bigger news. It might have been one of the reasons why Vince has talked about the sequel so openly and so soon, otherwise there was a chance that this company would use the Colony idea (which as pointed out is the next logical step).
The reason I talked about it is simple: it's the first round of testing waters and gathering feedback before we go further. I'm not worried about anyone using our ideas because it's not about the idea itself but the design and writing. It's not like humans landing on an alien planet is a unique concept: there are four Mass Effect games yet our design couldn't be more different. Same goes for The Outer Worlds and KOTOR games.
 

Mr. Hiver

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Here, however, while the aliens are pre-industrial, they are well past the spears and face-paint stage, and have well-established political, economic, and military systems.

More importantly, they are alien, which means that while they may be humanoid (to make our animator's life easier), the fundamental logic of their society, religion, and power should be truly alien to ours and vice versa.

So they wont be alien at all but yet another humans in funny costumes and makeup schticks.
Politics, economics and military - society, religion and power - thats how human societies work. Nothing really alien about any of that.
And i bet any shape that will take in the game will be some sort of recombination of already known human kinds of those systems and organizations.


While we're playing around with the basic concepts, we're exploring what the alien civilization might look like. Joan Piqué Llorens out of Barcelona thinks it might look like this: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/BmvNgA
Hmm... a kind of Road Warrior-esque city in the middle of the desert. No agriculture. No sense of connection to anything else. Just empty desert around. Arena looking walls and kind of apocalyptic looking shanty settlements around it.

Thats not a civilization - and its not alien either.

However, the audience is so dumb you just have to give them funny pictures and repeat "alien" enough times and they will start thinking its true.
 

Zed Duke of Banville

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Dude, spoilers!

I thought you guys were going to do the tactical spin-off, and then Age of Decadence 2.

But this is interesting still.
The sequel should be both Colony Ship 2 and Age of Decadence 2; all they need is for the alien world at which the colony ship has arrived to be the same world as the setting for Age of Decadence.

miltiades.png
Greetings, alien travelers! Can I interest you in some merchandise? Just follow me into this completely unsuspicious alley.
 

Zanzoken

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The third game could be a sequel to CSG but a prequel to AoD. The civilizations that the off-worlders discover are the Old Empire and the Qantari.
 

Goral

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So they wont be alien at all but yet another humans in funny costumes and makeup schticks.
Politics, economics and military - society, religion and power - thats how human societies work. Nothing really alien about any of that.
And i bet any shape that will take in the game will be some sort of recombination of already known human kinds of those systems and organizations.
Usually the alternative is much worse so you can treat them as leftist humans who dyed their hair purple one time too many. In whole Star Trek there are only a couple of episodes where aliens aren't humanoid (or who don't appear as one, even the most powerful ones like Q assumed humanoid forms). That's because creating non-humanoid species is just beyond our imagination for it to work convincingly and it either ends up hilariously or just plainly stupid because one has to consider chemistry, physics (and biology which is a result of these processes) into account. The only interesting alien non-humanoid creature in whole Star Trek was the one based on silicon instead of carbon (because it's similar to carbon in many ways) but even that is controversial: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/could-silicon-be-the-basi/

Anyway, in Star Trek and Babylon 5 the most interesting aliens are humans period and I really doubt anyone could do better. Can suggest your idea of a non-humanoid life form that wouldn't be stupid? I doubt that.
 

Morkar Left

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Can suggest your idea of a non-humanoid life form that wouldn't be stupid?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fauna

But the aliens would be on the top of their food chain and intelligent. They need to be able to use and produce complicated tools. Either from material out of their surroundings or from themselves. There still might be a lot of forms of not being bipedals but for animators and 3-modellers it would be really expensive to produce. You would have to keep in mind that alien structures would have to follow their own physical appearance which could complicate things further when humans have to walk and interact in these.

You could always come up with some kind of "energy" aliens which probably can possess other lifeforms but that probably makes for poor alien environments on the planet.

Anyway, just don't do cat-people k'?
 

Trashos

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Some folks are destined for greatness and greatness does call for strategic alliances and capital injections. Sadly, we're too small-minded to dream of such things, so we'll stick with our 0.0003% of the global market.

It would be interesting to hear more about why this proposal was rejected. I mean, I can imagine various reasons, but let's hear it from the man himself.
 

agentorange

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How is the sequel going to factor in whatever ending the player goes with in Colony Ship 1? I assume it's going to be like AoD where there are the faction specific endings, then some sort of special player centered ending? And at least in the case of AoD if the game had a sequel then the future world would be drastically different depending on the various endings of the first game.

So is the Colony Ship sequel going to read the player's save file and make changes accordingly, which seems like a lot of work. Or will you do a Deus Ex IW type thing where you combine all the endings? Or is it going to be some kind of clean slate setup where "After the ending of the original game X disaster happens which negated whatever ending occurred."

To be honest it's kind of disappointing to know there will be a sequel, since I feel like it will limit the freedom you can have in designing the endings of the first game, since you have to take into consideration how any given ending could realistically lead into a sequel. How can you have an ending like Ascending or the desperate times nuke ending of AoD.
 

Goral

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I wonder how it will be explained why the colonists landed in an area full of those aliens (unless this planet is so densely populated there is no square meter without them present). I would think they would sooner choose an area where potentially hostile creatures would be in as low numbers as possible. Unless they would see how primitive they were and would decide to conquer them (or they would crash). But that also brings the question why pilgrims would be so hostile and without ethics? No Christian would attack first (in case someone would bring crusades, shitskins attacked Christians first) so I assume these pilgrims are muslims or they no longer believe in God and have no scruples with killing sub-humans.

MRY
Do you have anything to add? Maybe tell us about that other idea that has been discarded?
 

StaticSpine

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I remember your strong opinion againt making sequels. Now you think about creating one.

What's the primary reason? Putting much effort into customizing the engine or idea of making "not-more-of-the-same" sequels?

And one more: is "indie apocalypse/too much games" thing affecting your approach to marketing and production?
 
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"In unexpected news, our efforts were noticed and we've received our first publishing offer from a well-known company (in fact, I was very surprised to learn that not only they're aware we exist but that they also read our updates occasionally). Some folks are destined for greatness and greatness does call for strategic alliances and capital injections. Sadly, we're too small-minded to dream of such things, so we'll stick with our 0.0003% of the global market."
Gonna throw in the random guess: it was Epic Games with an offer for exclusivity on their store.
 

Deleted Member 22431

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Oh please. The publisher it's obviously Netflix... I mean, Microsoft!
 

Mr. Hiver

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So they wont be alien at all but yet another humans in funny costumes and makeup schticks.
Politics, economics and military - society, religion and power - thats how human societies work. Nothing really alien about any of that.
And i bet any shape that will take in the game will be some sort of recombination of already known human kinds of those systems and organizations.
Usually the alternative is much worse so you can treat them as leftist humans who dyed their hair purple one time too many. In whole Star Trek there are only a couple of episodes where aliens aren't humanoid (or who don't appear as one, even the most powerful ones like Q assumed humanoid forms). That's because creating non-humanoid species is just beyond our imagination for it to work convincingly and it either ends up hilariously or just plainly stupid because one has to consider chemistry, physics (and biology which is a result of these processes) into account. The only interesting alien non-humanoid creature in whole Star Trek was the one based on silicon instead of carbon (because it's similar to carbon in many ways) but even that is controversial: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/could-silicon-be-the-basi/

Anyway, in Star Trek and Babylon 5 the most interesting aliens are humans period and I really doubt anyone could do better. Can suggest your idea of a non-humanoid life form that wouldn't be stupid? I doubt that.

Well... thats the result you get when you base your understanding of these ideas only on dumbed down for mass audience "sci-fi" tv shows.
For far better examples you would have to read, say someone like Stanislav Lem, Ian McDonald, Baxter, and... a few hundred of other top writers of Science Fiction.
It wasnt/isnt beyond their imagination. Plenty of examples there, you only have to read.

And i wasnt talking only about biology and appearance.

That said, none of this means these "aliens" and the future game will be bad or boring.
That depends only on the final execution.

When it comes to settings and stories with aliens you have a basic few angles to approach them.
One is the star trekish approach of basically talking about and exploring human issues through slight distortion of the fake alien species which are nothing but human extremes, like Klingons being extreme of the human warrior-fighting mentality and Vulcans being the extreme of "reasonable thinking" and removal of emotions. Even the Borg are just a simple concept based on of humans issues and fears dealing with technology-machines.

The other approach is confronting humans with things that are truly alien and sometimes even incomprehensible and then exploring how humans would deal with all that and how would that affect humans. Like Lem and Brothers Strugacky did, for example.

But there are also examples of humans interacting with alien beings which are different then humans and not just some extreme of the human psyche, yet not completely incomprehensible.
 
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I've tentatively got high hopes for such a sequel.
Could be the best alien world colonization game since Alpha Centauri.
Multiple factions sounds very reminiscent of it.
 

Goral

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Well... thats the result you get when you base your understanding of these ideas only on dumbed down for mass audience "sci-fi" tv shows.
That's because adapting tv-show to games is much easier than to a book. In the book the sky is the limit, in tv-show there are things that can't be built or generated with CGI (or it's extremely hard/expensive). In games it's even more difficult than in in a tv-show because EVERYTHING has to be generated (some motion picture may be used too, unless you also count claymation but that's only for certain types of games) . Also, some of the ideas of these sci-fi authors aren't scientifically accurate, sometimes even gibberish (like Ardryci, don't know how they were translated into English though). Humanoids are just the most logical choice, period but if you want to argue it further give me some examples of non-humanoids that make sense and are within limits of an indie developers (or even AAA developers).
 

Vault Dweller

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Some folks are destined for greatness and greatness does call for strategic alliances and capital injections. Sadly, we're too small-minded to dream of such things, so we'll stick with our 0.0003% of the global market.

It would be interesting to hear more about why this proposal was rejected. I mean, I can imagine various reasons, but let's hear it from the man himself.
Because when you take the publisher's money, the publisher gets a say.

Vault Dweller
I remember your strong opinion againt making sequels. Now you think about creating one.

What's the primary reason? Putting much effort into customizing the engine or idea of making "not-more-of-the-same" sequels?
I explained in the other thread:

Dungeon Rats certainly did well compared to other small-scale tactical RPGs, but that doesn't mean much because the potential of such games is very limited (as the numbers show, even if you compare the first 6 weeks of the year: AoD 7,110 – $24,316, DR 1,562 – $4,800, even though AoD was released a year earlier. One of the problems is that we can't do better in 10 months and if we switch to a 2-3 years schedule to add more depth and complexity, might as well do a proper sequel and not a small -scale tactical spin-off. At least that's the idea.

And one more: is "indie apocalypse/too much games" thing affecting your approach to marketing and production?
No because I don't see any signs of it. Look at ATOM: it came out of nowhere and did very well without any marketing.

How is the sequel going to factor in whatever ending the player goes with in Colony Ship 1? I assume it's going to be like AoD where there are the faction specific endings, then some sort of special player centered ending? And at least in the case of AoD if the game had a sequel then the future world would be drastically different depending on the various endings of the first game.
Too early to say. The game will take place 40-50 years after the landing, your character will be Proxima-born not ship-born.

To be honest it's kind of disappointing to know there will be a sequel, since I feel like it will limit the freedom you can have in designing the endings of the first game...
We'll simply ignore the endings where the ship never landed.

Politics, economics and military - society, religion and power - thats how human societies work. Nothing really alien about any of that.
Any social system has its own rules and hierarchy. Ants, wolves, bonobo monkeys, lions, orcas. You can't have a complex society without a complex social structure.
 

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